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Walnut Wisdom: Episode 10

...At the first opportunity to get away from his mother he went to the apple house and cautiously looked inside. He had seen inside there before. Nothing much to see except slatted shelves lined with straw. As he pushed the door, some straw fell from the open hatch above him and he heard movement. Somebody, or something was up there! He didn't wait to find out what it was, but turned and ran . . . right into the arms of Old Matey...

Young Alan, evacuated from the city to a relative's farm deep in the countryside during the war, stumbles upon mysteries and secrets.

Arthur Loosley's novel captures the wonders, fears and delights of boyhood. To read earlier chapters please click on Walnut Wisdom in the menu on this page.

It didn't take long for Alan to settle into his new school. The other children were quite friendly and soon learned to accept him, although there were a few unkind remarks about 'furriners' invading their quiet little village.

The billeting officer had been round all the houses looking for accommodation for more evacuees and any family with a spare room was expected to offer a home 'for the duration' to children from highly populated and industrial areas, which were likely to be bombed when the war got into its stride, but nothing seemed to be happening yet and people started talking about a 'phoney war.'

Alan and his family were lucky to have relatives in the village, so Old Matey and Aunt Molly were able to avoid having complete strangers in the house, but other families were less fortunate and two London boys billeted at the other end of the village without their parents had already started to cause problems. Alan had not seen them but knew their names were David and Jim and as they were a few years older than himself, would not be attending the village school. Classmates who had met them were thankful for that.

He was enjoying his time at school here. The atmosphere was quite relaxed, unlike the strict discipline at Adley Green, where there were hundreds of children and the school day started with a single sharp note from a teacher's whistle, signalling them to stop what they were doing immediately and stand still. On a second blast from the whistle they had to form into tidy lines until told to march, still in their lines, into the school. Here at Tamwell, Mrs Cooper simply came to the door, blew her whistle and said quietly, 'Come on, children, you can come in now,' and they would stroll past her, reciting 'Good Morning, Miss.' That was better than having to stand to attention and being shouted at to stop talking and fidgeting.

Singing, craft work and physical training took up a good part of the school day but some time had to be spent on sums, and Alan was also encouraged to practise his reading and eagerly seized upon any book that came his way. The one that Mrs Cooper had been reading to the class on his first day there was 'Three Men in a Boat' by a man called 'J', who got into all kinds of difficulties on a holiday on the River Thames with two friends and a dog called Montmorency. Alan was glad that he had been allowed him to take it home with him for one evening and he had spent a happy hour reading it aloud to Old Matey, who giggled uncontrollably like a small child at some of their antics.

Opposite the school was the village shop. Alan was sometimes sent there by his mother to buy food and household items. They sold just about everything there that the villagers could ever need, including clothes, lamp oil, aspirins, riding tack and even shotgun cartridges. It was there that Alan was able to find the answer to Mrs Cooper's question about the 'sugar paper' they used in craft lessons as he watched the lady behind the counter weighing some sugar from a sack on the floor and pouring it into a cone shape rolled from a sheet of that blue paper. Some customers were trying to buy as much sugar as they could afford because the government had warned that it would be rationed by the end of the year. Alan had already heard about that from his grandmother.

Another purchase from the shop was a carton of cheese triangles, which provided material for one of Mrs Cooper's craft lessons, as promised. Alan enjoyed making things with his hands and was delighted when he was shown how to make a little rocking-horse from the conveniently shaped carton.

Christmas was not far off now, and Mrs Cooper started preparing the class for the annual celebrations, making paper decorations and Christmas cards and re-rehearsing for a carol concert. All of the children, from the youngest to the oldest, had a part to play, and they were all looking forward to the end of term, when parents would be invited into the school to see the fruits of their labours.

There was great excitement at the farm when a letter arrived from Dad, saying that he would be visiting next weekend and would be bringing someone with him. Mother was clearly delighted at the news but wouldn't say who the guest would be, but Aunt Molly guessed immediately.

'Where will he sleep?' she asked.

'In the apple loft I suppose,' Betty told her.

'Like last time?' the old lady replied; 'So it is him, then!'

Betty's face flushed. 'And what of it?' she retorted.

Molly looked disapproving. 'Well, just don't forget that it's your husband who's bringing him, that's all,' she warned.

Alan had no idea what this was all about, and dared not ask, but he was intrigued.

At the first opportunity to get away from his mother he went to the apple house and cautiously looked inside. He had seen inside there before. Nothing much to see except slatted shelves lined with straw. As he pushed the door, some straw fell from the open hatch above him and he heard movement. Somebody, or something was up there! He didn't wait to find out what it was, but turned and ran . . . right into the arms of Old Matey.

'What's the hurry, Young Matey?' the old man asked,

'There's something moving in the apple loft,' he gasped.

'Then we'll have to see what it is,' Old Matey said, pushing the door wide open and looking up at the hatch, which suddenly slammed shut. They heard the sound of young voices, laughing.

Old Matey started to climb the ladder, shouting, 'Come on down at once, me lads, let's be having you!', but slipped and fell heavily to the floor. The hatch opened again and two boys' faces appeared. They were not laughing now, but looked a little scared. Then they clambered down the ladder, leapt over the old man on the floor, and ran off.

Alan was shocked and confused. Old Matey was injured, and these boys had not offered to help. Could they be Dave and Jim, the evacuee boys the other children were complaining about?

He ran back to the house to report what had happened and get help for the old man, and the three women ran out immediately to investigate. They found Old Matey standing up, brushing himself down.

'What are you all staring at?' he rasped. 'Just missed me footing, that's all!'

Alan was happy to know that the old man was not hurt, but now he had to face his mother, who angrily demanded to know what he was doing in the apple house. 'If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand . . . ' she began, but didn't continue. Looking up at the open hatch she sighed, took Alan gently by the arm and led him indoors. 'Come on,' she said, 'let's see what we can find you for your tea.'

This sudden change of mood was unnerving; he had expected a severe tongue-lashing, or worse.

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